The power of positivity

For much of my adult life, I always recall being a relatively optimistic person. When disaster strikes, my mind goes into what I term my “Ultra Logic Mode”. My emotion levels are set to low, and my problem solving set to maximum. Because, by my very nature, I like to solve problems. 

I am lucky that most of the disasters in my life have been minor. Damage that could be repaired. Social situations that eventually had successful outcomes. However, our first miscarriage in 2019 changed that. This wasn’t a problem that logic could solve. 

Unbeknownst to Jess and I, we had what is medically referred to as a Missed Miscarriage. This is where the fetus has not continued to develop, but the body has not commenced the miscariage. The first miscarriage was a shock to both of us, but before we knew and through the early days, as Jess started to bleed and we went back and forth to the Hospital at all hours, I remained optimistic. 

“Don’t worry yet.”, “It’s going to be okay.”, “We know other people who have bled and gone on to have healthy babies.” are some of the statements I recall uttering to Jess, as we held one another in hospital waiting rooms, Consultation rooms and at home in the dead of night. I so badly wanted to believe it would all be okay. And at the time there was no reason to believe otherwise. I was unaware of the statistics of miscarriage at the time (as many as 1 in 4). But had I known, I would have clung onto the odds. “We will be one of the 3 in 4.” I can almost hear myself uttering to Jess, in a bid to stave off the worry for a little while longer. Had I uttered those words, I would have been wrong. 

For a time, I lost my sense of positivity. I went through the motions of grief, wondering “why us?”. I won’t dwell on that too much here (as these thoughts deserve time and attention of their own), but I will say that it left me cautious of the future. As if trying to protect myself from hurt, I refused to accept that pregnancy meant having children nine months later. Much of this pessimism, I fear, also stemmed from a sense of guilt I placed upon myself for feeling as if I had misled Jess. I know with hindsight and clarity that I shouldn’t feel guilty and that I shouldn’t have carried such ideas. But at the time, I knew Jess had been right in her worry, through the weeks we wondered if everything was alright, not knowing we were already in the midst of a miscarriage. So I vowed to her and myself that next time we tried, I would listen to her and her body. That if she was worried something was wrong, I would not go into my “Ultra Logic Mode” and reason why she was mistaken. Instead, I would accept it at face value. 

At the time, this seemed like the right decision. What I didn’t realise was it would go so hard against the grain of who I am, that it would lead me to the darkest place I have ever been in my life. 

On Saturday 25th May 2019, I was in Spondon, Derby, at a LARP event, having arrived the day before. Jess was pregnant for the second time and, as all seemed to be well, I left to spend the weekend with friends halfway across the country. Just before midday, Jess called me and told me she had started bleeding again and that everything felt like it had last time. My heart sank, my mind went blank and I entered a weird trance-like state of inertia I have never experienced before and only once since. My logic system failed, as I accepted without question that Jess was correct and we were about to go through our second misscarriage. It’s worth stating here, that Jess was indeed correct. But the issue was not a matter of fact, but of how I chose to deal with it. After wandering to get some lunch with my friend Emily, I sat in the shade and ate. Once I had finished, a feeling of overwhelming loss and emptiness replaced the crippling inertia and I began to cry. Emily sat with me and then took me to see our friend Shoey, who put the wheels into motion to get me out of Derby and back home. Within the hour, my wonderful friends had me packed up and ready to drive home. 

I don’t recall much about the drive home. I entered my state of mind-numbing inertia once more, broken up with bouts of crying. What I do recall, quite vividly, is considering driving the car into the central reservation of the M6 motorway. This was a thought that reared its head several times on the journey. I don’t think I was ever at any real risk of doing it. Everytime, it popped into my head, I simply thought of Jess and the need to get home to her; to comfort and be comforted. 

In hindsight, and after much contemplation on what is likely the hardest experience of my life to date, I regret my decision to so blindly abandon my optimism. This isn’t to say I regret my commitment to accept what Jess was feeling regarding future pregnancies as a given. This was a vital change in my outlook that has helped me reconcile my own feelings and support Jess through her own trials. What I regret was not understanding at the time that I could both listen to Jess when she felt something with the pregnancy was not right, and also remain optimistic. The two were not mutually exclusive, but I failed to understand that. It was only after the second miscarriage and before the third that I came to this realisation, driven out of a need to never go back to that place. To never feel the crippling, mind-numbinng inertia and intrusive thoughts of suicide (no matter the degree of thier potency). 

Our third miscarriage was hard. Once again, Jess told me she was worried, even before she started bleeding, that something wasn’t right. Her body told her what she needed to know. And I listened. And I remained positive. And, we managed to both come through the hurt and pain and grief, a little easier than we did the first time and a whole lot better than the second time. I’m not saying that a positive attitude is going to see you through a miscarriage unscathed. Nothing, save time and the unyielding support and love of your partner, gets you through a miscarriage. But taking back up my mantel of positivity through the third miscarriage helped give me a sense of future, which I had lost in the second. An understanding that whilst it was going to be hard, there remained something good in our future. A dream of a family. 

So, please don’t lose that positive part of yourself. Don’t abandon it for anything or anyone, no matter how hard it becomes. Because it will take you through those darker moments of miscarriage and allow the little light of hope to keep burning on.

Dealing with anger after miscarriage

I recently came across the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle in work, when trying to help a colleague with something going on in their life. In finding it, I found it spoke volumes to my own and continuing experiences with grief. 

Of all the five stages, during every miscarriage, Anger is the phase I have struggled with most, and continue to struggle with. And whilst I haven’t found a solution, I have found things that help.

I watched an excellent Ted Talk last year, in which Ryan Martin talks about why we get angry and why it’s healthy. My take away from listening to the talk was that we get angry when we feel injustice. When something happens that upsets our values or beliefs. In the talk, Ryan identifies that the five triggers for anger are things that we experience as being unpleasant, unfair, that block our goals, that are avoidable or leave us feeling powerless.

My experience of miscarriage is that it ticks four of these five boxes. The experience was extremely unpleasant, it felt unfair and like a milestone (or goal), was unobtainable and I was left feeling powerless. I don’t think for a second any aspect of it was unavoidable and this is something I think is important to mention. As one of the nurses said to Jess after our first misscarriage, “Unless you’ve been smoking a hundred cigarettes a day and drinking heavily, this isn’t your fault”. Self blame is a path that leads only to darkness and is better off avoided. 

But hitting four of the five boxes, it exemplifies why miscarraige, at whatever stage, generates so much anger. And it does. After moving through denial and fear of the misscarraige, I found Anger had built up in me to the point I wanted to do great harm to the world around me. I felt like I could violently lash out at any moment and a part of me wanted to. Because it would be a release. And that made me scared and upset. I didn’t want to become that person and was left feeling frustration, as I tried to control my anger. 

I think the thing I struggled with most was that I had no person or object to be angry at. Nothing with which to funnel my rage and anger. And I would not let loved ones become a target, so my anger festered. 

Even now, I have days where I want to scream into the void. I want to point the finger of blame. But I can’t. Because I have tried it and it doesn’t work. There’s no justice to be found in my anger, because there is no person or object to be held accountable. The situation just is. It is one of life’s great injustices. And as much as I hate that fact, I won’t give myself to it. 

In Ryan Martin’s Ted Talk, he finished by explaining that Anger is what benefited our ancestors, as it is part of our fight or flight instinct. And just as we cannot (should not) physically fight someone in civilised society, so it is the case for miscarraige (although I would welcome the opportunity to kick conceptual miscarriages arse). But we can use anger as a tool to identify injustice and find a positive way to fight it.

I’m not sure I have identified the ideal way to use my anger at miscarraige in a positive way yet. Writing for our blog, in hope it will help others, goes some way to helping, I think. I certainly feel it’s a positive outlet. Donating to charities that support those suffering misscarriage helps too. And I think one day campaigning for positive social and legal changes around misscarraige will fill me with a sense of justice too. Some small balancing of the scales. But if I do myself a kindness, I think this is enough. I hate to admit it to myself, but I think actually having a child is the only thing that will ever truly dispel my anger. Perhaps this isn’t true. I truly hope it isn’t. But if it is; that’s okay. Because there are many ways to have a child and no one of them is less worthy than the other. 

I hope, as you read these words, you find some comfort in them. I certainly, having started typing this whilst in a dark place, feel a little lighter. I hope that you will cut yourself some slack for feeling angry and try to find a way to channel it into positivity. But if you can’t, don’t berate yourself for it. It’s just not time yet; but it will come. 

Third time around; A father’s thoughts on recurrent miscarriage

On the 22nd March 2020, at roughly 11am, my wife, Jess, and I were told, once again, that we’d had a miscarriage. This was our third, having had one in January 2019 and another in June 2019. As it had both times before, my mind went blank and focused on a singular purpose. Something that was largely outside of my control, but something I would try to do nonetheless. How did I protect Jess. From the grief, the hurting and the frustration of the loss. Looking back on it now, I’d been a fool to worry as much as I did. I think it’s a very human reaction to want to protect those you love from the things that hurt you and you fear is hurting them too. But this was Jess and she is one of the strongest people I know; even if she rarely gives herself credit for this fact.

After the usual follow up with the early pregnancy midwife, we left the hospital, in silence for a while, until we reached the car park. There, I asked if Jess was okay. It was then I knew we’d weather this storm better than we had the first and second time. Her response was only to lament that, because of COVID-19, that we wouldn’t be able to see our family and friends, the people we rely on most at our very highest, very lowest and at every level in between. She swiftly followed it up with that she’d like a drink, which in itself is something as Jess isn’t a big drinker. “There’s some Gingerbread Rum left over from Christmas. I think I’ll have some of that.”

I didn’t cry myself until later that morning, as I sat at the dining room table, work phone sat in front of me, waiting for a text message back from my boss. Emotions always seem to hit me after the fact. They take a few hours to sink in, sometimes days. I often attribute this to why I rarely get excited about my holidays until I wake up on the day we’re going to the airport. As I sat in my little air pocket, staring at the black mirror of my phone, Jess floated into the room, cup of tea in hand and open arms to embrace her soggy faced husband. She always seems to know when I need her most. I probably shouldn’t be surprised after almost 13 years together, but I am. It’s part of what keeps the magic going. As she held me, I spoke about how I was angry. Angry that I had nothing to direct my hatred towards. And that I was also very sad. And finally that interspersed amongst it all, I was having strange moments of clarity. Clarity that seemed to say, “This is okay. You knew this might happen again and you will try again sometime.”

If I have any prevailing mindset that has come out of the third miscariage, it’s that everything is okay, despite the loss. It’s deeply saddening, frustrating and fills me with anger occasionally. But then I find myself often sitting in a daydream, thinking about holding my first born child, playing with them as a toddler, or acting as the sagely father to a teenager. And those emotions are still there, but more like a subtle undertone. They are almost silenced by the prevailing feeling of my willingness to soldier on. To try again and for those daydreams to one day become a reality. I feel it like some sort of driving force in my chest, pushing forward and outward. A yearning. I attribute this to something Jess said the day we found out about the third miscarriage. “This one just wasn’t right for us, but it will be when the time is right.” And I think my body is trying to pull me to that day. When Jess and I can sit in the darkened sonographers room, Jess on the bed and I sat beside her, holding her hand, and being told that we’re having a healthy baby and that everything is progressing as it should. But until then, I will write down my experiences, for what they’re worth. In part, to help myself collate my thoughts and order my feelings, like the robot I can be sometimes. But more so that someone, other than myself, can feel a little less alone in the darkness that swallows all those who lose a baby, and so that they might find some nugget of wisdom from my experiences or thoughts.